Hey friends! Time to take a quick look through this week’s Weekly Shonen Jump again! And this time around we’ve a treat: a one-shot manga by Tite Kubo, mangaka of Bleach! Plus the final chapter of the jump start Alice & Taiyo.
Burn the Witch (one-shot)
While it’s inevitable that a series that ran as long as Bleach would have some ups and downs in quality, there’s no denying the epic and iconic stature of the work that flowed from Tite Kubo. So here’s a glimpse of what is going on with the talented author’s imagination today…
Burn the Witch opens with Noel, apparently a straight-laced high school girl, ambushed by a high-on-hormones boy who desperately wants a peak at her undergarments. Must have a clothes fetish or something. Anyway, she beats him off, steps into a phone booth (wait, actual Superman phone booths still exist?!), and vanishes.
More accurately, the phone booth disappears in a Doctor Who/Bill & Ted’s sort of way. The boy, who has been cursed (presumably from birth) with the name “Bargo”, witnesses all. Kind of a large oversight by Noel, no? Bargo flips out and calls his best friend in a panic.
Noel, meanwhile, arrives at Reverse London, a secret part of London (duh) which is known only to “witches” (who are not witches in the typical sense of the word) who have to deal with “dragons” (which are not dragons in the typical sense of the word). The witches are simply those who have the ability to see the dragons and interact with them, and who have passed a safety eval test. For their part, the dragons are more like yokai creatures. The witches sometimes have to fight the dragons, but more often then not they serve as peaceful aides in the domestication of dragons. So early on this story, our heroine finds herself picking grapes out of an enormous dragon’s nostrils. There’s a phrase you don’t see every day.
Let me take just a moment to admire TK’s signature style. The image above, of Noel entering her office, strikes me as unmistakably bearing the same touch as Bleach: Notice the sweep up of the cape, and the look on Noel’s face. TK loves to give his characters that feeling that they’re not quite wholly in this world, kind of floating down to it a bit; and that’s the vibe Noel gives here.
Meanwhile, Bargo, his dog, and his friend are hanging out. They’re just about to go search for some grub when the dog… explodes out of his skin and turns into a big, black dragon. (This one, at least, looks like the typical giant lizard.) While Bargo and friend struggle to stay alive, Noel and her partner get assigned to take down the dragon. Apparently this is a “dark dragon” (creative name, there), which is a dragon that has absorbed an unhealthy amount of negative human emotions.
Also, this dark dragon is a “diguiser”, which means it hides in the corpse of a recently-deceased living thing until it’s ready to strike. Noel and her partner face down the dragon while Bargo and his friend turn to run, and…
Noel realizes there’s a second disguiser nearby. Right on cue, Bargo’s friend explodes into a… pointy ribbon-like drill-thingy? With arms and legs? Turns out that the friend died in a train accident ten years earlier and ever since the disguiser has been living in his skin. Now the disguiser sees its chance to gain immortality, supposedly attainable by eating a witch.
TK is at his best when he can draw out the emotional depth to his character, and this one-shot which is pretty mediocre plot-wise touches some decent notes of emotion. There are too many questions left unanswered by the happy ending wrap-up, as is often the case for one-shots. Still, it’s an enjoyable read if you want a fresh taste of TK’s art and creativity.
Alice & Taiyo 3 (jump start)
As always, I’m giving my unedited thoughts about the jump start as I read!
We open with Taiyo refusing to perform live with Alice again, due to his social anxiety. Alice encourages him and off they go to the stage!
Ok, you know I’m normally kind of snarky or tongue-in-cheek when I review these. This scene, however, as Taiyo sits down to the keyboard—and freezes—is too powerful for me to make fun of. It’s done with just enough dialogue, mostly relying on atmosphere and the looks on the characters’ faces. You can feel the tension. I’m gonna give this +5 points and move on before it becomes unbearable.
Alice sings a note! Taiyo snaps out of his fear, reminds himself that he’s not alone up there, and kicks into playing. +1
The artist that Alice lured off (the guy that was supposed to perform at the end of last week’s chapter, remember) comes back finally, and is impressed not by the details of the performance—there are plenty of mistakes, he notes—but rather by the overall harmony that comes through the combination of Alice’s singing and Taiyo’s playing. After the applause dies down, he asks Alice if she and Taiyo are planning to go pro.
“Go pro? I’m disappointed in you, Jin,” Alice replies. “Our sights are on… the Grammys!”
What could sound like a bit of self-indulgent hubris takes on new meaning in light of the fact that while musicians from all over the world have won Grammys, no one from Japan has ever done so. Jin notes that it would be more unlikely than Japan winning the FIFA World Cup! +1 for the cultural relevance, and +1 for Alice’s character design, which I can’t get enough of.
A typical touching moment afterwards, in the good Shonen tradition, occurs as Alice invites Taiyo one more time to join her officially. He asks her, “I won’t regret it, right?” She reassures him, they shake hands—and the moment is immediately undercut as Alice notes, “Wait, actually you might regret it.” “What?!” “It’s ok as long as you come to terms with the regret.” +1 for the undercut, +1 one for the pro life tip.
As the chapter wraps up, Alice gets contacted by a TV program manager asking if they’d be willing to perform live…
Final Score: +10 points
Final Verdict: Guys, this jump start just felt so… so warm. It’s cute, but not in a light way. Like Alice and Taiyo’s song, the chapters have many small things you could nitpick, but the overall experience just works.
I’m heading over to the poll to vote for this one now. You should do the same. (I don’t think it requires a WSJ subscription, but the latter is totally worth it!)